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The Rights of Irish Citizens in the UK after Brexit

Students of the history of the British Isles will know that the UK’s historical relationship with the Republic of Ireland is vastly different from those the UK has with other members of the European Union.  After Ireland became a Republic in 1922, various legal constructs were put in place to preserve the rights of British and Irish citizens who were or wished to become residents in each other’s territories, which led to the creation of Common Travel Area (the ‘CTA’). 

Irish Citizens are not ‘Aliens’

The CTA arrangements establish that Irish Citizens have a special legal status in the UK (from the briefing announcement of October 2019, see link below):- 

“Irish nationals have a special status in UK law which is separate to and pre-dates the rights they have as EU citizens.

In short, the Republic of Ireland is not considered to be a ‘foreign country’ for the purpose of UK laws, and Irish citizens are not considered to be ‘aliens’. Furthermore, Irish citizens are treated as if they have permanent immigration permission to remain in the UK from the date they take up ‘ordinary residence’ here.” 

This legislation is now framed in section 1(3) of the Immigration Act 1971, which states that people seeking entry to the UK from the Republic of Ireland are not subject to immigration control. Paragraph 15 of the Immigration Rules and section 9 of the 1971 Act contain further provisions related to the CTA.

Survival of the CTA post-Brexit

The CTA therefore pre-dates the entry of the UK into the European Union, and the UK and Irish Governments have pledged its survival post-Brexit, see the guidance published in February 2019.  The Governments have made joint statements in respect of preserving the CTA arrangements (see Memorandum 8 May 2019, Commentary on statement of 8 May 2019) and have issued a briefing paper setting out the arrangements (published 16 October 2019, see link to the paper within the announcement). 

New legislation preserves the arrangements

The current EU withdrawal legislation before Parliament [the Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill 2020] has a specific passage dedicated to restating the rights of Irish Citizens in the UK once they can no longer rely on their EU rights to free movement.  Section 2 of the Bill seeks to amend accordingly section 9 of the 1971 Act. As the Explanatory Note to the Bill explains,The status for Irish citizens in the Bill supports the wider reciprocal rights enjoyed by Irish citizens when in the UK, mirrored by equivalent provision in Ireland for the treatment of British citizens who are resident there.”

It should be noted that the Bill contains a significant preclusion to these rights  As the Explanatory Notes state (at paragraph 12), rights to enter and remain in the UK are to be preserved for Irish Citizens “unless they are subject to a deportation order, exclusion order or an international travel ban”.

Therefore whilst the Republic of Ireland continues to firmly assert its commitment to membership of the European Union in direct contrast to the UK, both nations have provisions to preserve the reciprocal rights of their citizens present in each other’s territories.

The following are FAQs about the CTA and the rights it conveys:-

What exactly is the Common Travel Area?

Essentially it is the territories of the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom combined, (including the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands.  Citizens of either country enjoy the privileges accorded by the CTA.

Will Irish Citizens need any sort of permit to come to live and work in the UK?

No, Irish Citizens who come to reside in the UK are considered to be ‘settled’, and therefore there are no requirements to obtain a work or residence permit.  They are able to move freely, as are UK Citizens, between the two nations which comprise the CTA. Citizens can work within either country, including entering into self-employment.  Both governments are working towards continuing to recognise professional qualifications issued in either country.

Can Irish Citizens continue to come to study in the UK?

Yes, and the guidance states that both governments are working to ensure citizens in either country have the right to apply for student loans and other access to education schemes.

Do Irish Citizens have the right to access the social security system or social housing in the UK?

Yes, both governments are committed to preserve the rights of their citizens to access benefits, pensions, social housing, etc in either country. The guidance to the rights of Irish Citizens to the UK’s social security system can be found here, and it is stated in the CTA guidance that if working the citizen will be subject to only one set of social security legislation, that of the country where they work.

Can Irish Citizens access the NHS without charge?

Yes, they have the same rights as British citizens to access the NHS, and whilst visiting the UK they have the right to access the NHS if needed, provided proof of Irish nationality can be provided [there is no need for any equivalent of the European Health Insurance – ‘EHIC’ – Card).

Can Irish Citizens vote in the UK?

Yes, this unique arrangement means Irish Citizens can vote in UK elections, both national and local, as can UK Citizens in Ireland.  However as UK Citizens are no longer EU Citizens, they are likely to be precluded from voting in Irish European elections.

What documents are needed for Irish Citizens to prove they are entitled to the benefits of the CTA arrangements?

Ideally an Irish passport, which is of course photo identification as well as proof of nationality.  The Irish authorities have provided the following guidance:-

“The Common Travel Area means that there are no passport controls in operation for Irish and UK citizens travelling between the 2 countries. You do not need to have a passport in order to enter the other country. However, all air and sea carriers require some form of identification and some regard a passport as the only valid identification. Immigration authorities may also require you to have valid official photo-identification which shows your nationality. As you are being asked to prove that you are an Irish or UK citizen who is entitled to avail of the Common Travel Area arrangements, it is advisable to travel with your passport.”

Do Irish Citizens have to register with the European Settled Status scheme (the ‘EUSS)?

No, unlike other EU citizens, there is no requirement for Irish Citizens to register under the EUSS, however see below in relation to the preserving the status of non-EEA family members.  The UK Government says that Irish Citizens may register if they wish; registration is a fairly simple online process.  

What happens to the non-Irish and non-UK family members of Irish Citizens?

The CTA does not provide for non-Irish and non-UK family members to reside with Irish Citizens in the UK.  Family members will need to register or apply for entry under the European Settlement Scheme (the ‘EUSS’).

The CTA guidance states that Irish citizens will need to be able to prove that they were continuously resident in the UK prior to 31 December 2020 in order to support an application from existing non-Irish and non-UK family members who want to remain in the UK them, or who wish to join them in the future,  Registration under the EUSS would provide such proof, although the guidance says “There will be many ways to (sponsor family members) without (the Irish Citizen) applying to the EU Settlement Scheme.”

The guidance goes on to provide the following advice to the Irish sponsor:-

“You might wish to consider retaining documents such as payslips, bank statements, utility bills, tenancy agreements or other dated documents which display your UK address, as these are the types of evidence that will be required in support of a future application for your close family member to join you.”

Contact our Immigration Barristers

For advice and assistance with questions about rights under the Common Travel Area arrangements for Irish Citizens and their family members,, contact our immigration barristers on 0203 617 9173 or complete our enquiry form below.


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